07/09/2013 12:10 pm ET Updated Sep 08, 2013

It's Time to Leave for Camp/School... How Do We Get Out the Door?


A parent called me yesterday with frustration and anger in her voice. "My son decides to have a tantrum or to be unruly just as we are leaving the house in the morning. I just can't stand this anymore!" She went on to describe a child who sounded completely out of control, except I had met the child before, and he seemed to be very compliant and well-mannered. The exasperation had taken over, and I am sure that this child knew that he was going to get his mother's undivided attention with his behavior. This was not the first time I had encountered this issue with parents, so below I will share my thoughts with you.

For a young child who is accustomed to separating from mommy or caretaker in the morning, there is the issue of attention. Young children do not care if the attention is negative or positive as long as it takes the caretaker away from everything else around them. So my first words of wisdom involve setting your expectations with your child the night before, perhaps at bedtime. That is the time to say to them that tomorrow when it is "leaving time" you are expecting to see a happy person who will cooperate with you. If your child can do that four out of five mornings perhaps Saturday will bring a treat for him/her. If that doesn't happen, the child will get a consequence such as no desert or TV for that night. If you say it, make sure you follow through! Consistency is the key to making your life and your child's life so much easier!

Some parents might chose to make a chart to hang on the wall that lists one to three expectations for the child. (i.e. "I brushed my teeth two times" or "I made my bed" or "I left for camp/school today with a happy face.") Take your child to the sticker store and let him/her pick out favorite stickers that can be "earned" by the expectations on the chart. Bedtime, after all is quiet and relaxed, is the best time to do the chart. If your child does not earn the sticker for the day, simply leave the square empty with the hope that tomorrow they will be able to earn it. Try it for two weeks (not weekends) and you might be surprised.

Another part of this issue is to make sure you reinforce the good behavior. If you see that your child is responding to the sticker chart let him/her see how pleased you are. Let your child know that you are pleased because trying to meet goals will make his/her life better! Keep the discussion about your child's behavior and life, not about yours. Children want to please those around them, but young children mostly react to things that make them feel happy. Their universe is centered around them. It is not until they begin to mature, that their ability to include the rest of the world becomes important. Most modeled behavior is imprinted into the child's mind, but a child is not able to always apply those actions until they get a bit older.

Try to maintain your composure when your child is out of control so that the situation does not escalate. If you are falling apart in front of your child, or yelling and screaming, he/she will take much longer to calm down. If your voice gets too loud, you can count on the crying or wailing to increase.

Changing behavior is much more difficult than initially establishing behavior, so be kind to yourself in the process. This is not about your ability to be a successful parent, it is about finding what works the best to help your child learn. It is not unusual to find that just as your child learns to incorporate better behavior in one way, you will be challenged with another issue that pops up unexpectedly. You are the adult and he/she is the child, so maintain and hold your boundaries. Isn't your child lucky to have a parent who cares so much?